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Former Pima County judge one step closer to becoming U.S. attorney

WASHINGTON – A Senate committee Thursday gave preliminary approval to former Pima County Superior Court Judge John S. Leonardo’s nomination to be the next U.S. Attorney for Arizona.

The voice-vote approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee came without discussion and without opposition. Leonardo’s nomination now moves to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.

Leonardo has the support of Arizona Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, who said in a joint statement Thursday evening that they expect a quick vote by the full Senate.

“We are confident that Judge Leonardo’s decade of experience on the bench will serve him well in a key post left vacant for too long,” their statement said.

If confirmed, Leonardo would fill the federal prosecutor’s job vacated by former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke. He resigned in August during the investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, the botched “gun-walking” operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Phoenix office.

In a prepared statement after Leonardo was tapped by President Barack Obama on March 21, Kyl called the nomination “welcome news for Arizona.” The statement cited Leonardo’s experience as an assistant U.S. attorney in Arizona from 1982 to 1993 and his experience as a Pima County Superior Court judge from 1993 to 2012.

Leonardo retired from the Pima County bench in February.

“He’s simply a perfect choice,” said Walter Nash, a defense attorney who has worked with Leonardo in his roles as both a lawyer and a judge. He said Leonardo was “imminently fair” as a judge.

In his nomination, Obama said Leonardo had a “distinguished” career and would be “relentless in his pursuit of justice.”

Before he served in Arizona, Leonardo was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Indiana from 1973 to 1982. He graduated from Notre Dame University and the George Washington University School of Law, before serving as an assistant state’s attorney in Prince George’s County, Maryland, from 1972 to 1973.

The U.S. Attorney for Arizona has three responsibilities, according to the office’s website: prosecuting federal criminal cases, prosecuting civil cases brought by the United States or defending it from civil suit, and collecting federal debts that are “administratively uncollectible.”

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